Windows of wonder

Almost seventy years later I remember clearly how the magic of translating the words in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space… 

Mario Vargas Llosa

 

Thanks to Goodreads I found  this phrase in my inbox. It is beautiful, and one that I can relate very easy to.

Since I can remember, reading a book was a good way to escape from the moment and from reality; it could well mean learning something new about nature, seasons and the natural rhythm that surround us; how to bake or cook something which never ever turned to be as beautiful and perfect as in the pictures; how gazing at the night sky turned into staring at the moon trying to discover the spots the books were talking about; how travelling books fed my hunger for discovering new places.

I can remember clearly how my dad with all his patience taught me to read and make sense of the words with a famous book in Argentina called “Upa” well before I was ready for it and how important I felt when I asked my grandparents if I could borrow a dictionary which  had many pictures correlating with most of the definitions, to copy the words – hence, learn to write.

My whole life has been delicately intertwined with books; I’m no book hoarder but I can say that I do have a collection and within that collection a separate bookcase with the most special ones; those that remind me of a special moment, place, or person.

The few times I have had a book clearance I gave them to my local library and even then, with a heavy heart, only to be comforted by the fact that other people would enjoy them as I did.

My collection of books becomes known and the subject of heavy conversation every time I move to a new house. And when I say, “heavy conversation” this is not only because of the number of books and the weight of such boxes; it is as well because of the amount of swearing involved in the lifting and moving of said boxes and the unkind reminders of the amount of space and dust they gather.

Although I did inevitably catch up with the internet and the wonders of Google and Wikipedia where I am amazed and surprised at every click; I must confess at times this confuses me because of the amount of information given. It is too much and discerning, selecting and choosing takes a big chunk of time.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant, immediately I went to the local library to see what could I find. I explored for endless hours’ websites and more than once I simply shut up the laptop because there was too much to read, process and digest. At least in the library the books were few and I could easily flick through the pages and see if I could find something concise that would answer one question without uprooting a dozen more.

Which – you guess – was a futile quest. But at least two or three books could be something more manageable instead of 1,200,729 results in 0.06 seconds. With 2 or 3 books, I could make better choices. I felt I could choose!

This line of thinking does takes me inexorably to think on how children are being bombarded with 9,623,719 results in 0.40 seconds and the effects those results and the variety have on them. How they are bombarded with ready made things that do not provoke a thought or a sparkle for imagination.

Yes, I hear you say, cartoons do provoke imagination. Children are replaying what they see in their own way and of course they are using their imagination to do so. But have you ever tried to read to a child what he has seen on a screen? Have you ever tried to read to a child something that the child has not seen on a screen? If you give a child the choice to read a book from their favourite cartoon on screen and a book of a classic fairy tale, guess which one will win the contest? Yes, the one based on the cartoon.

My theory for this choosing is simple: because what you read has its foundations on a memory from the screen of something they have seen already. It is far easier to recall an image – or a series of them – rather than create an image built with words.

I for one try – almost desperately – to generate a world with words. I managed to shrink the amount of time in front of any electronic device. I try for my little one to spend more time outside in the patio rather than inside the house where he will test everybody’s patience to get hold of a screen.

I discovered that the time he spends soaking in the bath is perfect for me to read him a short story completely unrelated to his favourite cartoon. And to my surprise, he does enjoy that little time where words create a world.

I cannot avoid the reality we live in and I need my little one to learn about this fast paced world; but I most definitely can show him how to open the little windows of wonder every time he opens a book.

Is it really dead people? A 3 minutes conversation

A few days ago I went to a very interesting talk at The Waldorf School of South West London. The speaker was a lady called Erika Grantham and the talk was entitled “Doing not talking”, aimed to parents and school tutors for kindergarten. No need to say the environment was ever so peaceful relaxing and very welcoming. The thought that in that same room children spend their days made me somehow jealous.

All the colours were soft and warm, there was a nature table with natural flowers and hanging from the ceiling a beautiful weeping willow branch, with some of the ends covered in green, symbolising the spring buds. As you can imagine we sat in tiny chairs in a circle, and perhaps the mood of the room was so calming whoever entered automatically pulled a couple of gears down and spoke very softly and calm.

Regarding our speaker, Erika, she was quietly sitting down, facing all of us, observing and I think enjoying herself with the surroundings as we were. How can I describe her, a tiny woman oozing the strength of a titan, and at the same time that lovely gran from the fairy tales that you wish you could have her as your next door neighbour. With a strong German accent she opened the talk and her words still resound. She spoke about the will, the fantasy and the imagination in a child and on how nowadays all three of them are manipulated by the comforts of modern high tech living.

From this talk and particularly the part of imagination, I remember quite well an episode when I was working regarding this subject.

It was a very cold evening, and we were waiting for a train that was delayed. That train was coming from Disneyland, and I was prepared to greet grumpy parents, overtired children and anxious travellers. But nothing prepared me for the story I’m about to tell you.

As I was saying, I was waiting for the train to arrive; I was informed that a wheelchair passenger was on board, so I was there on the platform with the ramp ready to be deployed as soon as the train stopped. The train arrived, doors were opened and I started to deploy the ramp for this passenger.

To my surprise, the first passengers to come down the ramp were two boys, who were obviously excited to be back. As you can imagine I kept an eye on these two – who were no more than 7 years old – because I did not see an adult coming after them. So I just stood there, with the ramp fully opened and waiting for the wheelchair passenger to come along.

These two boys were talking between them, and they were dangerously close to the edge of the platform. Obviously they had not thought about the danger – at that age they are not fully conscious of it – and they were quite persistent trying to look underneath the train, and close to the rails. It is worth mentioning that the gap between the train and the platform is quite substantial and the depth of this gap is substantial as well.

I was a bit uncomfortable watching these two so close, so carelessly close to the edge so I decided to walk towards them, you know in a very casual way. As soon as I approached, they came to me, hesitating and talking. Finally after a discussion of “no, you ask” “no you do it””you ask go on” the question came out.

– “Is it really dead people under the train?” blurted one of them.

I have to say, I have heard, I have been asked  so many things when I was working, that I could write a catalogue with details and even so probably I would miss a few. But this question? NEVER. Imagine my shock when they asked me, I simply could not believe for one second that 2 seven year old boys were asking me that.

– How about you move with me away from the edge and then I tell you? I said, calmly and with a smile on my face as if the question was the most natural thing to ask.

– But if we move – said one of them – we won’t be able to see the dead people!

– Well, I’m afraid it is dangerous to be so close to the edge, so please come with me and I tell you all about it.

They agreed, perhaps under the illusion the dead people would emerge from underneath the train and grab them. Although that sounded like the right thing to say  to get them away from the edge of the platform– thinking back on reflection – at the time it did not cross my mind to say it. I did see some excitement in their eyes waiting for the promised answer. But my answer was not an answer, was another question.

– What makes you think they are dead people under the train?

– Because in this game we are playing the dead people hide under the train – started one of the boys

– And then – said the other – you have to kill them all!

– Yes, yes, and the more you kill the more dead people appear and then you have to kill them!! – said the one who asked the question in the first place.

All I managed to say is “Ohh….I see” completely astonished.

At that same time the wheelchair passenger was making his way down the ramp and who I think it was the father called them and off they went. But before they went, they did ask again.

– So, are there dead people then?

– Josh, Matt, come back here right now! – Said the man

– I was folding back the ramp and I answered them “Of course not! There is not such a thing”.

The disappointment in their faces was beyond words to describe it. They went back to the adults who were getting ready to leave the platform with all their bags and suitcases whilst I was making my way back to the office to clock out and go home. Nothing that happened that day could top this last event.

Needless to say this “3 minute conversation” still very clear in my mind because it did shock me and every time I recall it still does. And after listening to lovely Erika and all her wealth of knowledge I started to comprehend – understand is not the right word in this case – as to why these two boys posed such a question.  The first thing that comes to my mind is “their imagination is corroded” by these new games and paraphernalia that surrounds children nowadays.  Fair point, children do have to know that those games exist, violence is a real deal, and life is not as rosy as we, parents, expect it to be. We, parents, do our best to keep life as rosy as possible, but the fact remains; reality is not a soft pillow, rolling hills with green grass and perfectly blue skies.

But then again, isn’t childhood what it is all about? Blue skies, rolling hills with green grass and soft pillows? So, why corrupt it so soon and so fast?

And….landing

ImageWell, the day finally came when I had to make my way back to England. Goodbyes and hugs here there and everywhere, of course lots of tears, and my little one looking lost and confused as to why he suddenly was wearing a long sleeve shirt and a jumper when he has been with a sleeveless bodysuit for almost a month.

The flight was at 13:00. Knowing that in Buenos Aires almost anything is possible, I made the decision to leave the house reasonably early, perhaps too early to the trained and experienced traveller, but for me, it made all the sense in the world.

Let’s put it this way: I was not in England, where you know that the major obstacle between you and the airport is either the M25 jam packed or the Piccadilly line with “minor” delays due to a signalling problem and in the worst case scenario, you can always talk to someone and explain your situation and make the suitable arrangements; no.

I was in Buenos Aires, where you can find yourself facing a demonstration or a picket at any point of your route to the  International Airport (important: there is only ONE route to the International Airport and there’s only one International Airport which is called Ministro Pistarini, AKA Ezeiza (that’s the name of the location).

The other Airport is smaller in size and it is the National Airport and it is located by the riverside and it is called Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. Mind you, you may, on the odd occasion, catch an international flight from Aeroparque; but that is almost one chance in a hundred.

Anyway, we left early to Ezeiza, in order to avoid and/or diminish any kind of situation explained above. Hence, we woke up early – that’s not a problem when you have a seven month old little boy! – And got ready to leave my mum’s flat where we were staying.

Add to that that there was no electricity (the previous night was raining quite hard, hence the electric substation that feeds the blocks was flooded, hence no power) and I had to come down 10 stories with a baby, the pram, two suitcases and the pertinent bags for both for the flight; and oh, yes, my mother who was very persistent to come with us to Ezeiza,  despite the fact she would face going up ten stories in order to reach her home when she got back from waving goodbye.

You may wonder, well, probably the power at that point would be restored. Nah. Is Buenos Aires, very difficult that anyone would provide services during a weekend.

Weekends are sacred down there, and if anyone can avoid doing some work – even emergency ones like restore electricity – they will do. To give you an idea, when I called to report the power cut (this was at 5am) the person who answered the phone sounded half asleep, and the answer to my query was “due to union problems, we don’t know when we will be able to send an emergency service to your area”. You may wonder when the service was restored. Nearly 12 hours later, according to my mother who sent an email to tell me so.

So. After doing my exercise quota, we got in the car and made our way to Ezeiza. And an hour later, we were there, trying to find a place to park. In the meantime, I was left in the drop off area in order to wrap the suitcases and get everything ready to start the check in.

Bags wrapped – that’s something I always do, no matter what! I had some nasty experiences before and I learnt my lesson the hard way! – boarding passes and passports in my hand, I made my way to the BA desk. It was crowded. Despite the fact that I arrived almost three and a half hours earlier, obviously there were people with the same idea.

However, someone from BA saw me with my little one and told me to go straight to the beginning of the queue (would you believe the amount of evil looks we got?) which I did. Because I had everything printed, the process was fairly smooth. The assistant at the desk was very helpful as well which made the beginning of the journey a bit more bearable.

More tears and more hugs, we make our way to customs.

Oh well, sit down and grab a cup of tea, because that deserves an entire new chapter.

Travelling…

Are you travelling soon? Are you going through Heathrow T 5? Are you travelling with your little one? Are you travelling on your own?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, carry on reading!

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Recently – say  a week  ago – I went through Heathrow T 5 on my own with my little one (6 months) to South America.  No need to explain that I was extremely anxious about the whole experience, the whole idea of a 14 hour flight was giving me the creeps, and for the two days prior to departure I was daunted by the task at hand and several times I thought about pulling out and changing the dates to a later stage when my partner could come with us.

Since I was travelling on my own with my little one, I decided to make my life easier, so I had  thought about  everything from the minute I arrived at the airport to the minute I sat on the plane.

So.

I prepared the bag for my little one, with nappies, wipes, bottles, muslins, spoons (for his breakfast) and a change of clothing. And some toys for the journey, a blanket from home and another of his blankets. You may wonder why a blanket from home? Simple, because the cradles the airline provide are a bit flimsy and not very warm. Also my concerns were that on planes, normally they lower the temperature, and also I wanted my little one to have something that smelled like home.

Then, I prepared my bag: Laptop, camera, passports, a book, reading glasses, hairbrush, toothbrush, and a warm pair of socks, tissues and purse. Finito.

On a separate bag (a third bag) I put all the liquids that have less than a 100 ml (make-up, hand gel, hand cream, the small 90 ml milk bottle for my little one and a small bottle of baby lotion) all in a transparent bag, so when I got through security everything was ready to go, without the hassle of taking everything out of the bag, messing around with the stuff, you know how it goes.

You may wonder, on a 14 hour flight, will a 90 ml bottle of milk be enough?  Nah, I’m not that careless. Thing is, you can buy (it is called reserve and collect) all the baby stuff you may need for your journey online via Boots,  and pay and collect all the stuff once you went through security at the airport. Isn’t it wonderful? So, one worry less, I bought the 200 ml. milk cartons and a jar of fruit.

Well, the day came, all set to go, we arrived at the airport, after doing the check in (boarding passes were printed at home, so I only had to drop off the luggage and that’s it)  and after enjoying my last decent cup of tea until my return, I started my journey. Rivers of tears when I had to leave my other half, my little one was completely asleep so he didn’t realise what was going on.

Went through customs. Passports were handy, together with boarding passes. Check.

Went through security. Pulled the transparent bags from the bag, and the laptop. Check.

Went to Boots, to collect and pay for the stuff. The milk and the baby food were ready, paid for the stuff. Check.

My little one was asleep. I had a wander through the Duty Free Shop, then a quick stop at Smiths to buy something light for me to read. Or at least to distract me for a while.

Finally the gate was announced. We got on the plane; I gathered up all the stuff and slowly, gently woke up my little one. I prepared everything so that when the plane takes off, my little one would be having some milk and would “forget” about the annoyance of the ears going “pop”.

He was so distracted by the lights that I would love to think he never realised what was going on. As soon as the plane got to a certain altitude, the cabin crew gave me the moses basket for my little one, I put the blanket from home inside and he sat there, until slowly but surely he fell asleep.  Believe it or not he slept for 6 hours and then I woke him up for a change and a feed; he fell asleep again for another 5 hours, until the first rays of sun appeared.

It was then when he became a bit agitated. I think he realised something was not  “normal” and that same thought probably left him exhausted, because he fell asleep whilst landing, and was asleep through the ordeal of customs and luggage collection.

Conclusion:

The people at T5 were very kind and understanding. The people from security was very patient, I have to say the whole T5 was helpful through and through.

It *did* help big time that I prepared the bags and separated everything beforehand at home.

It *did* help to use the “reserve and collect” system at Boots.

I want to think that the blanket from home did the trick for my little one to sleep more comfortably.

As for me…well, exhausted.